A few days ago Le Monde newspaper published research according to which between 1989 and 2016 75% of the biomass of pollinating insects have disappeared.
Systemic pesticides are primarily responsible. They have been denounced since the 1970s, but have never really been challenged.
A month ago, a young beekeeper in the Bologna Apennines, close to where I live, lost 14 beehives. The cause: a chemical treatment on a field of corn cultivated nearby using a very common pesticide, promoted and sold in the agricultural partnership round the corner.
It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of… than for a component of some lucrative and “realistic” sector to renounce their concrete commercial transaction, whether small or large, even if it’s aware of damage it does to both the environment and to people.
And that’s how Trump with his science-denying supporters withdraws from the Paris Accords (without reprimands or consequences) and cancels any investment in favour of the climate and the environment… how Bolsonaro promotes, at the cost of the Amazon forest, new soia and corn plantations destined for intensive farms in Europe and the Americas… how Macron continues to develop devastating mining activities in “his” former French colonies.
No European policy exists which really promotes, on an industrial, agricultural and energy level, a step change. There’s space for aesthetics but not for substance, for marketing but not for commitment, for glossy conferences but not for solid structural changes which promote the environment and quality of life.
And by now it’s clear to everyone — Alex Langer wrote it in 1998 — that who kills the environment kills the social and kills society, starting with the most helpless.
Moreover there’s the phenomenon of disorientation which confuses, frightens and limits more than the crisis itself.
We have never had food so checked, certified, guaranteed and recounted, and yet at the same time it comes from labour and work conditions which are worse than medieval. The number of investigations and denunciations, quantitative and qualitative, carried out by single researchers and journalists like Marco Omizzolo, Stefania Prandi, Francesco Carchedi, Enzo Ciconte, Leonardo Palmisano, Flai CGIL and others is shocking.
In Italy there are hundreds of thousands of workers, Italians and immigrants, and more than a million in southern Europe, who work in totally illegal conditions, paid less than half the minimum agricultural wage. In the case of workers from outside the EU who live in ghettos, in unimaginable living conditions, there’s also an absence of rights which often bleeds into violence, harrassment and sexual blackmail.
That’s the case for immigrants from all over Africa, but also from Romania and Moldavia, who move from harvest to harvest throughout the country, in a sort of seasonal wandering. Immigrants from the Punjab in the Pontine Marshes and the Moroccan women harvesting strawberries in Spain undergo all sorts of violence.
Despite the extreme difficulty of gathering data and denunciations, some people don’t back off, they don’t look the other way but decide to get close to and investigate the phenomenon in order to combat it.
Emphasis is given to products persuasively called Mediterranean, cultivated in the fertile lands of the delta of the Nile or in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. But under what working conditions? The little information we have exposes a very regressive situation as regards rights and working conditions. The remuneration is one euro an hour on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and two-thirds of a euro on the northern one. That is without social security contributions, assistence, insurance or redundancy pay, meaning the absence of the articulated welfare system which in Europe is a social and civil system. It’s the result of generations of emancipatory struggles which delineate the difference between subsistence and dignity, between dependence and slavery on the one hand, and the rights of workers on the other.
It’s amazing and worrying how in contemporary Europe a black hole of the most basic rights coexists, and even prospers, like the one in which an important quota of food production takes place.
A very poor agricultural world exists which often includes the farmers, owners of plots on which they depend economically and who fight a war to the death competing with super-industrialised cereals from North America and with fruit-and-vegetable production which has to cost ever less. It’s a very poor agricultural world in which the labourers, the weakest link, are excessively exploited.
“We are the weather” Jonathan Safran Foer rightly shouted in his latest book. The call isn’t only for an increased awareness but for a taking on of responsibility. It’s the difference between being informed and taking action. And action is obligatory.
Paradigm and directional shifts are needed with respect to the undeniable immobilism of the ruling classes which justify themselves through a permanent state of emergency (unemployment, violence, climatic adversity, continuous political elections etc.) and through the reassuring and always concrete appeal that “one needs to be realistic”.
There are hundreds of thousands of women and men in the world who oversee fields and mountains, with milk from pasture and organic farming and respectful of biodiversity, who are worked within an inch of their lives to create farm shops in the suburbs of the cities and who supply healthy, non manufactured food at a good price to people. They sustain economies and ecologies at the same time. Who are they if not the real precursors of a concrete project of sustainability and social and environmental justice? Why not encourage with force those who decide to live in the countryside and provide food which truly sustains health and the environment?
No Cap, an association but in truth a movement against gangmasters, subscribes fully to this course of action which regenerates people, territories, rights and dignity for all. No Cap organises, promotes and gives value to social initiatives. Yvan Sagnet is its leader.
In recent months, and particularly in July, August and September 2019 with the close collaboration and support of the Altragricoltura association (an association for food sovereignty, a dense agricultural network which not only shares objectives but practises them concretely on the actual territory) he has contacted workers in the ghettos, processing industries, distributors, agricultural cooperatives and single private companies to activate long-term work in the fields which is professional and legal from a union perspective.
He has dealt with and managed the forced eviction of the ghettos alongside immigrants who were living there and he has genuinely battled, together with local associations, parishes and willing local administrations (and not all are) to find solutions both for the short- and long-term and to offer a decent arrangement to tens of thousands of young workers on the land, not only immigrants, but those who are invisible and inexistent under every profile if not for the crates of tomatoes and other products which they harvest in piece-work.
In these months of activity, No Cap has demonstrated that many people, from farmers to associations, some institutions and some important distributors are willing and available to get involved to offer a different framework to their lands. An ethical, civil, supportive and fair framework from the point of view of production and the environment: No Cap always promotes organic farming and biodiversity practises, even when it is risky. It overturnes customary formulas (“the prices have to be reduced as far as possible”) and gives precedence instead to a sustainable and civic development of the actual territory and all of its inhabitants.
No Cap promotes participatory development from below, and not for a few but for all. When one battles for rights and civilisation, for legality, liberty and the protection of the territory so that it’s not transformed into ghettos of misery and poverty… when one battles for the environment and society together, one does it not only for the most marginalised, but for everyone.
Food which comes from here is the food which will change the world.